In early January, as then-future and now-former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was in the midst of the political fight of his life, this column excoriated him as an “empty suit and a quintessential Swamp creature … whose main lodestar is cutting deals and expending political capital in order to boost his own political fortunes.” This column supported the House conservatives who extracted massive concessions from McCarthy over the course of the 15 agonizing ballots he needed to secure the speakership in January. And this column condemned those veteran commentators who supported McCarthy from the very first ballot, oblivious to the virtuous fight Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) and others were leading on behalf of good governance.
All of that is to say that I carry zero water whatsoever for Kevin McCarthy.
But I am frankly baffled by his unceremonious dethroning this week at the hands of the grandstanding Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who successfully mutinied McCarthy along with seven fellow Republicans and every single Democrat present in the lower chamber. At some point during the era of Donald Trump, Republicans seem to have forgotten a lesson as old as Edmund Burke’s seminal “Reflections on the Revolution in France”: Effecting change or fomenting chaos is highly imprudent absent some noble or important goal in mind.
But what was the noble and important goal here? What was so important for Gaetz that he engineered McCarthy’s historic coup despite the obviously hypocritical nature of it — namely, that he (and others) blasted McCarthy for his working with Democrats on Sept. 30 to pass a last-minute continuing resolution to fund the government, but Gaetz himself enticed the entire present Democratic caucus to help him toss McCarthy overboard?
As of this writing, that goal remains elusive. Gaetz claims to want reductions to top-level government spending, an end of U.S. taxpayer funding for the war in Ukraine, and much stronger security measures for our outrageously porous southern border. I agree on all fronts. And over the course of September, leading House Freedom Caucus members such as Roy successfully persuaded McCarthy to begin appropriations negotiations with the Senate with a proposed 8% cut to top-level government spending, as well as the very cuts to Ukraine funding that Gaetz claims to want. But Gaetz then helped scuttle those nascent negotiations before they even began. The result is no spending cuts and a likely continued funding of the Ukraine boondoggle. Talk about a self-own.
Or was it?
After he formally filed his fateful motion to vacate the speaker’s chair, Gaetz said of House Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), who is now in the running to replace McCarthy: “I think very highly of Steve Scalise. I would vote for Steve Scalise.” This concession seems to give away Gaetz’s real game. Scalise has been a part of House Republican leadership since 2014; he is just as much a part of the Republican establishment on Capitol Hill as is McCarthy. Indeed, Scalise even disagrees with Gaetz’s purported hard-line stance on continued funding of Ukraine. This therefore bears all the markings of a deeply personal grudge for Gaetz, which he has now acted out on a national stage. Perhaps Gaetz simply sought retribution for McCarthy’s failure to quash the House Ethics Committee’s ongoing investigation of Gaetz, which pertains to allegations of sexual misconduct, illicit drug use, and other improprieties — or perhaps he simply sought to fundraise on a national level in advance of an expected 2026 run for governor of Florida. Perhaps — likely, in fact — it is both.
If it really was Gaetz’s purely personal pique and a shameless opportunity for fundraising that motivated McCarthy’s defenestration, then that is sophomoric and reckless behavior. True, a good outcome could still emerge from this — the House could still elect as speaker either Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) or Rep. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), each of whom would be a substantial substantive upgrade over McCarthy. But it is tough to envision either of those outcomes while the leading mutineer has himself publicly conceded his contentment with establishment favorite Scalise.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this saga, in the midst of a bitter Republican presidential primary and in the lead-up to next fall’s general election against a senile and catastrophically unpopular octogenarian incumbent, is the political fallout. Most independent voters will (not necessarily incorrectly) see this as Republicans airing their dirty laundry and fomenting chaos at a time when the median American continues to suffer from skyrocketing crime, an unprecedented illegal immigration invasion, and the horrific inflation and other carnage of so-called Bidenomics. This (likely) pointless Capitol Hill drama represents the exact opposite of good governance — the antithesis of statesmanship.
Maybe former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal had it right when he called on the GOP to “stop being the stupid party.”
To find out more about Josh Hammer and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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